LUKE 1:57-66, 80 (see below)
Today we remember the life of John the Baptizer. As I meditated on our text I was struck by the special life that John offered the world, and I was struck by my own selfishness at not wanting to have the kind of life he was called to experience!
In my thirty-six years of active ministry I cannot remember how many homilies I have preached about the Baptizer, surely the number is in double-digits, but it never occurred to me, or better said, it never hit me as hard as it did on this reading and preparation just how foreign his life is from mine.
Now, as we shall see, part of this is calling -- our callings are different, and part of it is anointing -- he was gifted to be the an eremite (an inhabiter of the desert) and I am not, but part of it, surely, is that I am a person so often captured by the callings of technology and satiated doings of the world that I have little time for the quiet life (nor am I sure I want that life).
Said differently, the Baptizer's life of dedication and laser-like focus confronts post-modern disciples with a challenge only matched by Messiah Jesus, himself.
So, let's take a few moment this morning to think-through the special life of John the Baptizer.
HIS SPECIAL NAME
When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, "No. He will be called John." But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, "John is his name," and all were amazed.
Of course, we know that the name, John means, "the Lord is gracious," and that promise certainly proved true in the life of this particular John.
This is true, partly, because John's parents were childless for many years, and how this must have burdened them, especially Elizabeth, and yet GOD was gracious and gave them a son.
You well remember the story, I’m sure, how John's father, Zechariah was ministering before the Lord in the temple at the time of the incense offering when an angel appeared to him and revealed to him the promise of a son. And, indeed, a son came into their lives.
Can you imagine the joyful moment when, all their dreams, all their hopes burst before their eyes in the person of this baby boy. GOD was gracious to them; GOD was surely gracious.
But, of course, I am sure they realized that they would have to give this boy back to the Lord, which would mean that all their dreams for his life -- for example marriage and grandchildren -- would have to be renounced. I wonder, did this matter to them at all? It must have. In fact, I simply cannot see how it could not have mattered. I cannot see how they did not grieve all over again when the son, their only son, walked into the desert and left them.
But, this is the way of the world and the calling of the LORD. Joy and grief, mixed together and jumbled into each day.
We should add, that GOD is not just being gracious toward Zechariah and Elizabeth in the giving of John. No, he is also being gracious toward the world. That is, through the giving of this one life, GOD is closing the door of silence and opening the door to the completion of his promises to the Hebrew nation.
HIS SPECIAL CALLING
[Zechariah's] mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, "What, then, will this child be?" For surely the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.This text accented the original promise that the angel gave Zechariah:
...he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. with the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1:15-17)I wonder how John learned of this calling. Can't you hear his parents reciting daily the words of the angel? And can't you see him hear the whispering neighbors as he passed in play?
My guess is from early on John knew others thought him special. I am glad no such burden will ever be place upon me.
Which made me wonder: It may have been easy for John to forgo all the accoutrements of his culture. He may have been so saturated with the Holy Spirit that leaving all, forsaking the loved and known may have been no challenge at all, but I doubt it. No, I think this special calling was dense and heavy with loss. I think he may have carried it well, but at least in the beginning there were tears and questions and fears.
What must be remembered is that the gift of solitude and quite desert communion must be learned. And to think otherwise in John's life or any other religious is to think past their humanity, a thought of which GOD will have no part.
HIS SPECIAL MINISTRY
So, how long was John in the desert? Years, no doubt. But suddenly, at just the right time, the Spirit leads him into an active, outward ministry. He comes preaching in zeal for a national revival and a heart preparation for the final word from GOD, who is a person.
The famous prayer or Canticle of Zechariah perhaps is helpful in this regard:
Blessed be the Lord,
The God of Israel;
He has come to His people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty Saviour,
Born of the house of His servant David.
Through His holy prophets He promised of old
That He would save us from our enemies,
From the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
And to remember His holy Covenant.
This was the oath He swore to our father Abraham:
To set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship Him without fear,
Holy and righteous in His sight
All the days of our life.
You, My child shall be called
The prophet of the Most High,
For you will go before the Lord to prepare His way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our Lord
The dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness
And the shadow of death,
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.
LUKE 1:57-66, 80
When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child
she gave birth to a son.
Her neighbors and relatives heard
that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her,
and they rejoiced with her.
When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child,
they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,
but his mother said in reply,
"No. He will be called John."
But they answered her,
"There is no one among your relatives who has this name."
So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.
He asked for a tablet and wrote, "John is his name,"
and all were amazed.
Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed,
and he spoke blessing God.
Then fear came upon all their neighbors,
and all these matters were discussed
throughout the hill country of Judea.
All who heard these things took them to heart, saying,
"What, then, will this child be?"
For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.
The child grew and became strong in spirit,
and he was in the desert until the day
of his manifestation to Israel.